Madison Fougere embarked on a mission Sunday. The intrepid 7-year -old circled, stalked and -- finally -- succeeded in feeding an elusive blue "budgie" at Woodland Park Zoo.
"The blue ones are my favorite," he said, kneeling in one corner with seed sticks extended in his hand toward a trio of the palm-size birds.
Amid a cacophony of high-pitched squawks from hundreds of Australian parrots, some of which whooshed past his head, Madison retained his focus and sense of awe in his miniquest to find and feed at least one of each of the distinct varieties of colorful birds at the zoo's Willawong Station.
The popular exhibit has attracted more than 1,000 people every weekend since it opened in late May, said the zoo's collections manager, Helen Shewman.
It has proved to be such a success that the zoo is opening the exhibit for free strolls -- sans seed sticks -- during the week.
"This will be really nice in the winter," Shewman said. "It'll be warm in here."
Families like Madison's poured through the door Sunday into the indoor habitat -- which was made to resemble the sparse grasslands of Australia -- and repeated the seek-and-feed routine, with birds sometimes suddenly swooping down onto waiting hands.
Shocked looks dissolved into smiles as visitors got used to the feather-light birds on their shoulders and arms. Other parents hoisted sticks up into trees and brought down perched birds to pass on to their children.
The birds seemed unfazed by squeals of delight from toddlers, but a dropped heavy bag could startle them into enormous flutters of protective flocking laps near the ceiling.
Madison had no hesitation in approaching the birds, which have grown accustomed to perching on the small sticks and pecking away at their mobile meals. He fed the very common green budgies, as well as cockatiels, princess parrots, Bourke's parrots and big rainbow-colored Eastern Rosellas, before finally getting to the blue budgie. Mission accomplished.
Kaya Fletcher, 10, of Port Orchard echoed the same preference in a similar quest to get one to fly onto her stick.
Those with Hitchcockian-fueled fears of our feathered friends need not worry; beaks are baby-small on the ubiquitous budgies, and the larger birds shy away to the highest branches. Those splattered by birdie bombs can ask for Handi Wipes from attendants.
Madison speculated about whether the different-colored birds were of the same species, and more than friends. "I think the blue one and green one are loving on each other."
Yes, it's true -- birds do it in this aviary.
One amorous couple of green budgies -- a female and an overprotective boyfriend fending off advances from the other males -- swooped on Ron North, a Lynnwood man visiting the zoo with his wife, Karla, and their two young children.
Keeper Jean Ragland explained that the two budgies make regular rounds onto visitors, looking for a suitable love nest.
Karla North said her kids loved their first visit to Willawong.
"There's never an opportunity to see the animals like this," she said. "They can interact with them in here, instead of seeing them sitting in a cage."